The Misnamed Parable

[11] And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. [12] And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. (Luke 15:11–12)

I don’t think there is a more misnamed parable of Jesus than Luke 15:11-32. For this passage most Bibles use the subtitle, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” It should be, “The Parable of the Forgiving Father.”

In the parable Jesus presents a father and two sons. The younger son demands his inheritance while his father is living. In a sense, the younger son is telling his father to drop dead. The younger son leaves his home, goes on an extended bender, and hits rock bottom. Finally drags himself home to throw himself at the mercy of his father. When he arrives, the younger son discovers his father is watching and waiting for him. 

Because the younger son’s story is so moving, and especially because he’s restored to the family, the parable gets named for the young son. But notice what happens to the older son, who remained home faithfully working at his father’s side. When the younger son returns home the older son is resentful of the gracious reception given his brother. 

What happens? The father seeks out the older son, trying to mend family fences. 

This parable is about the father. How the father equally loved both sons. How the father would go to any extent to restore both sons to the family. 

Sound familiar? This absolutely sounds familiar. It sounds like God the Father, who made it clear all had sinned and fallen short of the His glory. God the Father, who sent Jesus to the cross to draw both the Jews and the Gentiles to Himself.

Luke 15:11-32 is the Parable of the Forgiving Father. Regardless of whether we see ourselves more in the younger son or the older son, Jesus came to gather all of us back to the Heavenly Father. 

(A Second Look devotions are written for the congregations of the Ohio District-LCMS.)

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